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Why are crazy people called nut jobs? Why are they called a job? Wiktionary is of no help here.

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8 Answers 8

up vote 27 down vote accepted

Maybe looking at its origin will help. SlangDictionary.com defines "nut-job" as:

a more recent variation of nut-case

"Nut-case" being:

a crazy person. A slang version of ‘mental case’ which spread from American speech into British usage at the end of the 1950s.

Thus, if "nut-job" was a mere variant of "nut-case", then, "job" would make sense. A "case" has two meanings:

a person or thing whose plight or situation calls for attention:
A piece of work, specifically defined within a profession.

The second meaning of "case" is synonymous with "job", and thus, in when "nut-case" was given a variation, its synonym "job" was taken and used. Thus, there would be a logical reason why "job" is used here.

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I agree - I think this is closer to the meaning that the other 'object of particular type' explanations. –  tinyd Aug 23 '11 at 10:04
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That's some piece of work you got there. –  David Schwartz Aug 23 '11 at 11:00
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I think that this sounds like a stretch. "Case" is not synonymous with "job", at least not within the medical profession where this supposedly originated. Having said that, I now understand why my father used to call me "a piece of work". –  JeffSahol Aug 23 '11 at 12:44
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"Case" in this context may have referred to a medical case, a patient with a particular ailment. To say that someone was a mental case was to say that that person was not physically ill but, well, nuts. –  Beta Aug 23 '11 at 12:45
    
@JeffSahol: case and job are synonymous when they mean "example thereof", which is the case here, so to speak. Speaking as a Brit I never heard of nut-job until this question. –  FumbleFingers Aug 24 '11 at 4:44
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This use is very similar to whack job and also similar to other slang uses of job such as "do a job on" or "a bank job" (meaning to rob a bank). Here, job just means something of a particular type.

"I got a new oven, one of those self-cleaning jobs."

"Use a real-dictionary, not one of those new-fangled online jobs."

You'll also find nut job used a lot in this same construction. "He's one of those right-wing conspiracy nut jobs."

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not sure bank job has the same meaning as the others as it really does seem to mean a task there –  jk. Aug 23 '11 at 12:37
    
I think you're correct. 'Bank job' is like 'some piece of work'. –  David Schwartz Aug 23 '11 at 12:39
    
I can also think of a couple of rude 'x-job' expressions which are closer to the more 'task-oriented' interpretation :) –  tinyd Aug 24 '11 at 10:17
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Job here is used informally to refer to something of a certain kind. See for example the definition under object in the OALD or the definition under example in the CALD.

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This one may be more closely related to "jobber," which means a "person who does a particular job," but also gained an extended sense of "guy," or "fellow," e.g., "See that jobber over there." Over time, jobber may have been truncated to "job."

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I knew the etymology of "nut" from OED in that it can refer to the head. Etymology of "job" refers to "piece of work" from the 1550s (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=job). I would guess the way that we slangily use "piece of work" to mean someone who doesn't make sense, "nut job" would logically follow as it is shorter than "nut piece of work"...

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As others have pointed out, this usage of "job" basically derives from "piece of work". It's not normally used of people, but it's been around a long time in slang. More commonly in the diminutive form jobbie, as in "A Blackberry is one of those hand-held jobbies".

All job really means here is "example" ("instance of"). In this slang usage there's no particular implication that the thing (or person, here) being referred to is either a task, or the end result of task-oriented labour.

Anyway, here's a chart to clarify that nutjob isn't really going anywhere... enter image description here

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Just don't use that diminutive form of job in Scotland - it has an entirely different meaning there especially given the example of it's usage here. –  RoguePlanetoid Aug 24 '11 at 7:48
    
@RoguePlanetoid: I did know that usage. Here in Southern UK we don't often use it "naturally", but you do sometimes hear "jobbie" spoken in an exaggerated Glaswegan accent - though it's largely replaced by the US import "dump" nowadays. And I think "big jobs" has always had connotations of "baby-talk"; you rarely hear that except from children (or their mothers talking to them). –  FumbleFingers Aug 24 '11 at 15:13
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I'm a firm believer many words like these function as compound words. I would think to define the term by it's constituent parts.

Thus, a definition of a nut job could be a label for a person who acts nutty, loony, weird, "out of touch with the main-stream". Plus this behavior is burdensome to the people who interact with the person--exhausting, demanding, unavoidable, persistent, etc. Its work to be their friend or acquaintance.

ADDING

What makes the phrase interesting it the word "job" may seem to refer to the person defined by their actions. The uses I've heard (and found below) are not synonymous with "nutcase". Again, using the compound word comparison, "nut case" would be: loony person + document case file = certifiable crazy person.

While "nut job": loony person + diminutive work = someone made crazy by their work. Here are two quick examples of politician and actor. Oddly, the male examples I found tended to use nutjob with examples of extreme antisocial behavior (criminals).

Maybe nutjob is a gendered slang term?

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Everyone was produced by a mother. That was a "job."

In the case of a "nut," the implication was that the "job" wasn't a very good one.

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